Simulator to aid control room digitalization

09 August 2013

A new virtual control room at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will help utilities convert old nuclear power plant control rooms running on analogue systems to digital ones.

HSSL virtual control room - 460 INL
Touch-screens surround the new virtual control room (Image: INL)

The Department of Energy's (DoE's) Human Systems Simulation Laboratory (HSSL) at INL is a unique, full-scale virtual nuclear control room that can test the safety and reliability of proposed technology replacements before they are implemented. It is specifically designed to facilitate digital renovation of older plants, which aremainly based on analogue systems.

HSSL virtual control room- 250 (INL)
Researchers can study operators to improve control room ergonomics (Image: INL)

Manager of the DoE's light water reactor sustainability program Richard Reister said, "The goal is to provide industry with a capability to understand and test how proposed changes to existing instrumentation and control systems will affect their plants. This will allow better design and digital upgrades with less risk of potential unforeseen problems."

The project began in 2010 originally to support the modernization of control room alarm systems. However, researchers decided on the analysis of full control room modernization. The simulator also enables improvements to be made in control room designs by studying human interactions with the instruments and responses to alarms.

As a result, the INL simulator is a hybrid facility that mimics both digital and analogue systems, which typically support physical controls such as valves, gauges, keyboards and touch screens. The simulator's controls are fully reconfigurable to duplicate control rooms of any operating nuclear power plant.

The virtual control room, comprising 15 touch-sensitive panels, was completed in March, although operators from HSSL's industry partners began running initial simulations with the technology last November.

The simulator is currently running three control room models, with most of the development work focused on Duke Energy's Shearon Harris plant. This is the first of many simulations for Duke as it begins digitizing its nuclear plants.

The INL's principal investigator for the pilot project on control room modernization Ron Boring said, "There is no other research facility in the world like this focused on control room modernization. We're already developing prototypes that are demonstrating the benefits of new technologies at nuclear power plants. Modernizing these control rooms is hugely exciting research that also fills an important need in industry."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News